Illegal gambling website Azino777 has become the biggest video advertiser on the Russian internet in recent years, outstripping the likes of Pepsi and Google. (Azino777)
The Bell is an independent Russian-language business media outlet launched by Russian journalists based in the US. It discovered this week that the court had inadvertently failed to redact the name of Albert Valiakhmetov — a 33-year-old Russian IT expert — from requested documents.
Azino777 is currently under investigation by authorities in Ukraine, where, like Russia, online casinos are illegal.
The documents confirm that police in the former Soviet Republic believe Valiakhmetov is the brains behind an operation that at the beginning of 2008 became the biggest advertiser in the online video space on the Russian Internet, ahead of Pepsi and Google, according to a study by Mediascope.
Since its foundation just five years ago, Azino777 has captured just under 20 percent of the entire Russian online black market, with estimated annual revenues of $229 million.
According to The Bell, from 2017 onwards, Russian internet users have been subjected to an internet advertising blitz by Azino777, and a video with a song performed Russian hip-hop artist Viti AK has been included in almost all pirated versions of movies on the Russian internet.
Last July, it was reported that Viti AK and another Russian rapper, Guf, are in hot water with Russian authorities for “advertising services prohibited in Russia” for their promotional gig with Azino777.
The Ukrainian court documents relate to a December decision that permitted investigators to examine equipment seized during a raid on the casino’s Kyiv offices in June 2018.
It is unknown whether anyone was arrested during the operation, although Azino777 is currently live and operational.
Digging by various Russian media outlets has failed to turn up much background on Valiakhmetov, other than that he hails from the city of Naberezhnye Chelny, 500 miles east of Moscow, where he was arrested for disturbing the peace in 2004.
Around the time he is alleged to have created Azino777, he deleted all his social media profiles.
Russian Authorities Play Whack-A-Mole
Russia recently regulated sports betting, issuing licenses to a handful of sites, and orders ISPs to block unlicensed gaming sites. The country’s telecoms regulator Roskomnadzor has a blacklist of well over 100,000 websites, which range from gambling sites, illegal file-sharing sites, and pornography to Wikipedia pages the Kremlin just happens to disagree with.
But the Ukrainian court documents reveal the extent to which Russian authorities are playing a game of whack-a-mole with operations like Azino777, which uses hundreds of related “mirror” domains that customers can access once others have been blocked.
There are currently 558 prohibited domains linked to Azino777 on Roskomnadzor’s blacklist — and counting.